Looks like the major domestic story in the last few days has been Wisconsin. I’m behind the curve and have nothing to offer in the way of breaking news. But the various strong-arm tactics used by the left, the unions, and their supporters have raised various questions about morality that I think are worth discussing.
Some of the issues are easy, it seems to me. If you’re not a partisan hack, you’ll agree that in almost every instance, it is wrong for legislators to flee a state to prevent a vote on a matter of public policy. For a few days Aaron has been handling another easy issue: if you’re a doctor, you don’t give sick notes to people who aren’t sick.
But what about the dude who called up Wisconsin’s governor pretending to be one of the Koch brothers? We know we don’t like him, but what if he had been that lovable scamp James O’Keefe instead of the nasty partisan lefty he is? I think the clearest difference is that O’Keefe found something while the Wisconsin imposter uncovered nothing — but what if that weren’t the case?
Prof. Jacobson has an argument today that the imposter may have violated a Wisconsin statute against impersonating people. Let’s assume he’s right. The lefties accused O’Keefe and Giles of violating state laws against taping people without their consent, and in some cases they may have been right. But most of us felt that the corruption they were uncovering at ACORN was worth it. What if O’Keefe had called up a Chuck Schumer and gotten him to say corrupt things on tape? While pretending to be a big Schumer donor, violating various laws against illegal taping, and so forth?
Does it all just come down to whose side you’re on? Or is there a legitimate distinction to be made here that has nothing to do with the underlying politics of left and right?
Similarly, we heard a story that a restaurant in Madison tossed out the governor after a crowd allegedly started booing him. Now, the actual facts of the story are messy. The blogger who originally reported the story has taken the post down, replacing it with another that amusingly claims: “I believe in a certain amount of transparency.” Note well: she didn’t say how much! Her new replacement post claims that the restaurant has gotten all sorts of nasty calls, but does not explain why the original post has been removed rather than the name of the restaurant redacted. Meanwhile, some conservative bloggers have been claiming that the entire thing was a hoax by the restaurant, basing their claim on this post and this phone call, in which a conservative blogger calls up the restaurant which alternately refuses to issue a statement, denies that the incident happened . . . and then discusses the matter internally, unaware that they have failed to hang up and are still being recorded:
I find the call not entirely conclusive and the post not entirely convincing, conflating as it apparently does the web site of the restaurant with the blog breaking the original story. But again, the particular facts are a bit less interesting to me than the theoretical question of when, if ever, it is appropriate for a restaurant to refuse service to a person because the restauranteur, his patrons, or all of the above disapprove of the customer for whatever reason.
My inclination upon hearing a story like that is that the other patrons were boors. They caused the disturbance, so they should be ejected. But had it been O.J., pre-Nevada conviction, I think it would have been proper for the restaurant to throw in their lot with the booers. Granted, I’m loading the dice there; O.J. was a killer and Wisconsin’s governor is not. But what if it were some politician we didn’t like? Like, say, Obama? Or Barney Frank? Might we not be on the side of the booers?
Ultimately, for most, I suspect the answer will come down to “tactics that help my side win are good, tactics that help the other side win are bad.” At that point it becomes an exercise in rationalization. And yet, if your side is right — and how important the issue is — may be a relevant point. But should that be the ultimate distinction? And are we headed towards a world where even restaurants are politically polarized, and we can’t choose an eatery based on the quality of its cuisine, but instead must scrutinize the owners’ donation record?
All food for thought and discussion. Understand, I’m playing devil’s advocate with most of this — but I do think it is a useful exercise in these situations to imagine the political tables turned before we rush to denounce the tactics.